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Pac-12 hires George Kliavkoff as new commissioner

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The MGM sports entertainment executive has no experience with college sports, but media rights and building media outlets is in his wheelhouse.

Colorado v Clemson
Background: LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 26: MGM Resorts International President of Entertainment and Sports George Kliavkoff (C) presents head coach Tad Boyle of the Colorado Buffaloes and his team with the championship belt after their 71-67 victory over the Clemson Tigers to win the MGM Resorts Main Event basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on November 26, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

We knew the Pac-12 was likely going outside the box to hire the commissioner who would follow Larry Scott, but they appear to have gone even further than many thought. Ralph Russo was the first to report this morning that George Kliavkoff would be the next commissioner following Scott’s departure in June, and it was quickly confirmed by multiple media outlets shortly after.

The Pac-12 announced he’ll have a five-year contract that begins on July 1.

The last time Kliavkoff was involved with college sports was as an athlete at Boston University. But what he lacks in collegiate experience, he makes up for in an area the Pac-12 desperately needs: media rights. Kliavkoff is currently the MGM Resorts Sports and Entertainment president but previously spent time as the Chief Digital Officer at NBC Universal and as the EVP of Business for MLB Advanced Media, the forerunner to virtually every live streaming platform out there.

If you think hiring a person without collegiate experience sounds familiar ... you’d be right! Larry Scott had no experience in the college ranks prior to running the Pac-12. But Kliavkoff’s experience in media is what helps this hire make a whole lot more sense than Scott’s; he turned MLB’s BAM into a billion dollar media platform and has experience all over the landscape.

For the Pac-12 right now, there are two extremely pressing issues: their next media rights deal and the status of the Pac-12 Network’s distribution. Kliavkoff is well suited to handle the former and take care of the latter as expeditiously as anyone the conference could’ve hired. There are other issues, to be sure, but none more important than those two things when it comes to the business model for the Pac-12 and providing bigger payouts to the schools. If Pac-12 football and basketball wants to be truly competitive with the other Power Five conference again, those are the issues that need to get sorted out before they can even consider making that leap.

Additionally, this is an executive who is well-versed in promotion, having worked at MGM; if there’s an entity in collegiate athletics that’s in need of a fresh perspective on its self-promotion, it’s the Pac-12, whose national brand reputation in its most important sports lags well behind that of the other Power 5 conferences.

On the surface at least, this hire appears to be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Pac-12. You’ll also surely see chatter increase of the conference headquarters moving to Las Vegas (something we advocated for nine months ago). There are some valid concerns that Kliavkoff has never dealt with college sports, and how different it can be than any of the professional ranks. Initially, though, it appears the committee in charge of making the hire made a very good choice to lead the conference into their new media rights deal, banking that the inexperience Kliavkoff does have can be easily remedied by learning on the job.

The first order of business though? Re-hire Mike Yam.